Reality TV now makes up 17 percent of prime time TV programming. Producers like it because a reality TV show usually costs about half of a narrative show to make. Part of the savings comes from paying the people involved less money. The union vs. non-union debate is heating up in Hollywood.
Scripted vs. Non-Scripted
For the writers, the argument comes down to whether reality shows are scripted or not. Most content creators of reality shows are billed as “story editors” or “segment producers.” Reality TV show creators don’t want to bill them as writers so they can maintain the illusion that these shows are actually real and get away with paying them less money.
So the question is, how real is reality TV?
The answer? Not very.
Think about it:
• any time you follow someone around with a camera, it ceases to be “reality” since most real people don’t live their lives in front of cameras
• any time you create an environment, such as putting a bunch of strangers into a house, it ceases to be reality
• any time you stick a bunch of people on an island and have them perform tricks and eat gross food it ceases to be reality, it then becomes Lost
These environments are completely created, they are artificial, meaning, not real.
Still don’t believe me? These techniques are what make a story:
• Characters arcs
• Plot points
• Narrative arcs
• A definitive beginning, middle and end
Guess how many of those things reality “story editors” do? That’s right, all of them.
Reality “story editors” or “segment producers” also write jokes, script the back-and-forth banter for hosts and “shape” the participant’s conversations.Real-life friends are often exchanged for better looking fake friends. Situations are created. In short, stories are formed. Those people forming the stories should get the same benefits as other writers.
Being a member of the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) means that the authors would get their credit as writers, pay equal to other TV writers, health benefits, pensions, and a percent of any DVD sales and reruns. Reality show “story editors” make between $1200 and $3500 a week. The Washington Post reports that, “For a writer on a half-hour prime-time network show covered by the guild, the minimum base pay is $3,376 a week, plus big perks if first drafts are used. Such a writer whose story and teleplay are used pulls in a minimum of $19,603. Plus there are the benefits: health care and pensions, which the reality shows do not offer.”
Writers aren’t the only ones getting the short end of the reality stick. Reality TV programs don’t pay union scale for directors, editors or crew members either.
If the shows aren’t real, if they are in fact scripted, then the writers should be paid as writers.
Ok, not all of the shows can be scripted. What about the contest shows? Those have to be real? Right?
Maybe not. According to the Communications Act of 1934, only contests of “intellectual knowledge, intellectual skill, or chance,” may NOT be rigged. This means that cooking, dancing, singing, fashion design or hair cutting competitions can be fixed.
The Actors: Spawn of the Nonebrity
Definition 1: A nonebrity is a pointless media figure who would love to rise up high enough to scrape on to the bottom end of the D-list.
Definition 2: “Z-list celebrities” or “nonebrities” who have done nothing to warrant their newfound fame.
Reality TV has taken our obsession with fame to a whole new level.
So how much do you make to go on national TV and “be yourself” or a bitchy, funnier, angrier version of yourself? A lesser-known, reality TV “star” can expect to earn about $5,000 a month.
However, reality TV has spawned actual stars. Here are some of salaries of those that seem to shine just a bit more brightly. Or at least are crazy enough (literally) to rake in some real cash.
Simon Cowell, the snarky American Idol judge, reportedly raked in $36 million last year. After salary negotiations it’s rumored that he might be somewhere around $45 million this year. Paula Abdul was making $4 million per year but left after they refused to double her salary. But host Ryan Seacrest has them both beat. ABC News reported that Seacrest signed a $45 million, 3-year contract, making him the highest paid reality TV star. I just can’t stop thinking about what we could do with $45 million. We could pay off a chunk of our national debt. We could rebuild Haiti. Or, we could pay Ryan Seacrest to introduce American Idol contestants.
Who didn’t love watching Ozzy shuffle around his house every day? The Osbournes were paid $5,000 each per episode for the first season and anywhere from $1 million to $5 million (depending who you believe) for the second season. That’s some raise! Jon and Kate earned $75,000 per episode. I really hope they’re putting most of that aside for their children’s therapy bills. Apparently, the 14 children of crazy-ass OctoMom, Nadya “I-wish-I-was-Angelina-Jolie” Suleman, are collectively getting paid $250,000 over the next three years.
Last year, around the country, Real Housewives were making $30,000 an episode. However, the NYC housewives are negotiating six-figure salaries for their new season. Over on the Hills, the DailyBeast.com reports that “22-year-old Kristin Cavallari will earn $90,000 an episode. Her predecessor, Lauren Conrad, made $2.5 million per year.” Heidi Montag, Audrina Patridge and Lo Bosworth are rumored to make around $100,000 per episode. Spence reportedly gets $65,000 an episode while Brody Jenner gets a measly $45,000 per episode.
Big Brother contests get $750 a week for each week they stay in the house. The grand prize is $500,000, second place is $50,000 and the Viewer’s Choice award is $25,000. Dancing with the Stars celebrity contestants get a base salary of $125,000 and bonuses for each week they stay on. Bonuses range from $10,000 to $50,000 (for the final weeks). The winner gets an extra $100,000.
The Real World gets free rent but not much money. However, they can parlay their “fame” into speaking engagements that earn them $10,000 a pop.
But the real money for reality TV stars comes from endorsements. For example, shows like Real Housewives plan segments around their housewives new products. The more they sell the better for everyone.
Photo Credit: Fox